NASCAR announces sweeping changes to qualifying formats
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR drivers won't be flying solo anymore.
Sweeping changes to the time-trial formats in NASCAR's top three touring series will eliminate single-car qualifying in all but two cases -- the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on dirt at Eldora Speedway.
All other events in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will feature timed sessions of knockout qualifying, with the number of sessions depending on the length of the track, NASCAR announced Wednesday.
Here's how the new formats work:
On speedways measuring 1.25 miles and longer, the starting order will be set in three sessions, the first lasting 25 minutes, the second 10 minutes and the third five minutes. All cars or trucks will participate as a group and post speeds in the first session, after which the field will be cut to the fastest 24.
The fastest 12 cars in the 10-minute second session will compete for the top 12 starting spots in the five-minute third session, with the fastest car or truck in that session winning the Coors Light (NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide) or Keystone Light (NCWTS) pole award.
There will be a five-minute break between sessions.
On tracks shorter than 1.25 miles, qualifying will be limited to two sessions, the first lasting 30 minutes. After a 10-minute break, the top 12 cars or trucks from the first session will compete for the pole.
NASCAR made the changes to create a more compact qualifying system designed to heighten the enjoyment of spectators and television viewers.
"We evaluate a lot of things over time, and this is one where the timing is right for us, and we believe that the fans will be receptive to this," NASCAR Vice President of Competition and Racing Development Robin Pemberton said in announcing the changes during a teleconference with reporters.
"All the ones that we've talked to so far think it's a great idea. The competitors think it's a great idea. It gives us an opportunity to get two or three rounds of qualifying in per event. I've got to believe it's better for the any of the sponsors, it's better for Coors and Keystone, and it's going to be a better show for TV. And the people at home will have a better opportunity to watch these guys qualify.
"I think any time you can add content, it's better for the tracks."
Driver Clint Bowyer was one of the first to react to the new qualifying system.
"Heck, I'm all for anything that makes it fun, not only for the fans but the drivers and teams, too," Bowyer said in a statement released by Michael Waltrip Racing. "This is really going shake things up on Fridays -- in a good way. I'm all for it."
Cars that are eliminated after the early rounds will start the race according to their respective speeds in the session in which they are cut, with provisional starting spots available to positions 37-43 according to the rules in effect in 2013. In other words, at the larger track, positions 25 through 43 will be set after the first session according to speed
By the same token, positions 13-24 will be set in order of speed after the second session.
Because teams are limited to one set of tires for qualifying, there's a possibility that speeds could fall off as the sessions progress, Pemberton said.
During the breaks between sessions, teams will be allowed to make standard adjustments to their cars, such as wedge, track bar and air pressure, but will not be allowed to go under the hood or make major setup changes.
Drivers will be allowed set qualifying speeds by drafting at superspeedways, but the embargo against tandem drafting announced earlier this month during Preseason Thunder at Daytona will remain in effect.
Pemberton indicated that considerable thought and consultation with stakeholders went into the decision to make substantive changes in the qualifying procedures.
"We work with all of our key partners on a lot of these things," he said. "This isn't a decision that was made in a short period of time. It took a lot of work and effort in a lot of areas, whether it be broadcasters or competitors or sponsors here at NASCAR.
"So there were a lot of people, a lot of groups that weighed in on all of this. Like everything else that we do, it's important that everybody's engaged and we get everybody's take on the ups and downs of some of these things."